Hardest Fall by Juliette Cross
Series Dominion Book Three
Genre Adult Paranormal Romance & Urban Fantasy
Publisher Entangled Amara
Publication Date February 25, 2019
The tattooed demoness, Bone, doesn't like anything except the magical weapons she makes. But she has hidden talents few know about. When I was brought to her near death, she used her Seraph song to manipulate flesh and bone to heal me. But she wasn't happy about it.
Now I must return the favor. Even though she refuses to take sides in the apocalypse, there's one job she's not willing to do for the demon prince Rook. If she doesn't, her head will end up on a spike. The question is, what sinister plans does the prince have with this unusual weapon? And what plans does he have for her? Of course, there's a good chance we're all going to die anyway, but No matter what, I will do anything to protect this fierce woman—and not just because she saved me.
So, we're both off to kill a demon—or three—and possibly save the world.
No. Nothing’s fair in love and war. I agreed with the haunting lyrics by Fleurie floating through my shop while I leaned over a finished blade, etching a skull and crossbones into black steel. This fresh hell called the apocalypse hadn’t changed my mind about humanity. Or heaven. Or the underworld. I knew that humans were doomed eighteen hundred years ago when I watched them singing hymns as they walked to their brutal deaths. That was when I’d stepped down from Elysium—gave up its Light—and channeled my gifts into something more worthwhile. Arming the fighters, offering survival to the fittest, and taking no sides.
So here I was, finishing a blade for one of the Twelvers, a human resistance fighter. Last week, I sold to an angel warrior a specialized crossbow with my own brand of powerful ether ammo designed to incinerate any creature—supernatural or earthly. And tomorrow another demon would stroll in, wanting to buy my wares.
The revolving door of otherworld beings and desperate humans with a need only I could fill kept my hands busy and my head on autopilot. Just the way I liked it. Or at least, that’s what I--
I jerked, nearly slicing my thumb with the engraving tool.
I recognized the voice yelling my name from the front corridor of my basement workshop. A glance at the camera’s monitor above the workbench confirmed it was him, all right. Dommiel, a dangerous demon who recently switched sides—definitely the work of his angel lover—and one of the few demons I called friend.
Anya wasn’t with him, but I recognized the demon hunter George from around London—and from the time I visited his estate to heal Dommiel. Tonight, he helped carry the body of a human with a bleeding chest wound. Leaping toward the steel inner door, I unlatched and opened it wide. They were steps from the door, moving fast.
“Why are you bringing me a dead man, Dommiel?”
“Nearly dead, beautiful,” he said, voice unrattled as usual. He eyed the table at the center of my shop, littered with ammo and handguns. “I need another table.”
Heaving a sigh, I led them through the archway to my private inner rooms and gestured toward the high wooden table against the wall where I crafted harnesses. Sweeping it clear of scraps of leather, I stepped out of the way while the hunter lay the injured man’s head down gently. That was when I noticed the similarity in their looks—George and the nearly dead man. Not identical by any means, but I saw a likeness in the coloring of skin and golden hair, though the hunter’s leaned toward auburn. Same dimpled chin, chiseled jaw, high cheekbones, and long slash of a nose. But I knew this hunter was centuries old. This human couldn’t be--
Taking in the injured man, I realized my mistake. Because his lifeforce was ebbing away, I hadn’t sensed the low hum of otherworldly power pulsing from his body, pumping slowly through his veins.
“Who is he?” I asked, stepping closer.
“He’s a Dominus Daemonum,” said George. Master of Demons. A hunter, like him. “And he’s the last of my kin.”
I swiveled toward Dommiel, whose black iris rimmed in ruby red—the one not covered with a patch—stared at me expectantly.
“I’m not sure why you brought him here.” Gesturing to my shop, the blades and pieces of steel and leather stacked on every surface, I said, “As you can see, I’m not a healer.”
“Bullshit,” growled Dommiel. He thrust out his mechanical arm and wiggled his black steel fingers. “You can heal him.”
George spoke. “Look, I know you’re a seraph.”
“Was a seraph,” I corrected.
He swallowed, his eyes darting nervously to the unconscious man bleeding out on my work table.
“You have the power of inspiration. You can save him.” The handsome hunter’s desperate expression stoked something in that long-dead organ inside my rib cage. “Please,” he whispered.
“Come on, Bone. I know you can do this,” urged Dommiel. “Any price. You name it.”
Shifting my attention back to the injured man, I noticed that the pool of red seeping across his unusually crisp, white shirt was slowing down. His heart was pumping slower. Gripping both sides of the button-down, I ripped it open, still wondering at a man—a demon hunter—dressed up and groomed so impeccably during the apocalypse. Who did that? Apparently, he did.
The wound looked to be a clean stab through his left pectoral, right where his heart was.
“Who stabbed him?”
“One of Simian and Rook’s red priests.”
Not good. “Was the blade tinged with the demon princes’ essence?”
“No,” said George. “They were trying to kill him. Not take him as a slave.”
A demon used his essence to take possession of others.
“How do you know that?” I glanced over at him.
“My cousin Xander, here, keeps pissing on their plans. The demon princes, that is. They’re trying to get rid of him.”
I swiveled back to the man on my worktable. “Seems they were almost successful.”
“Yeah. Xander wiped out about twenty on his own, from what we could tell. Even with this injury.”
Impressive fighter. His pale chest, smeared with blood, seemed to grow even paler. I hesitated only one more second.
“Strip him,” I ordered, marching back toward my living quarters where I kept my suture kit.
Dommiel was the only one I’d ever operated on, and that was to attach his new arm. I feared what I’d find when I opened up this Xander. I wasn’t a surgeon. But they were right. My power as a former seraph had not diminished when I left Elysium—the home of heavenly hosts. This power of inspiration could be twisted into persuasion. I’d once inspired the souls of the lost to walk away from despair—before I’d fallen into that dark pit myself and come to understand its allure.
I now enjoyed manipulating metal and steel—much less difficult to manage—singing my song of creation into the metalwork, making it become what I envisioned in my mind. I’d only ever once sung my song to manipulate flesh and bone. For Dommiel. To give him back his arm. And the result had left me drained, exhausted, and…content.
By the time I’d grabbed my kit and wound back through my bedroom and small kitchen into the workroom, they’d stripped the hunter down to his underwear. Dommiel had a wet cloth and was wiping clean the wound.
“No.” I pushed him out of the way and popped open my leather bag. “It needs disinfecting. That rag could have all manner of bacteria on it.”
He moved over as I pulled out a bottle of antiseptic and ripped out a clean sponge from its wrapper. The bleeding had slowed to a crawl, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The blood might be clotting, but it was more likely that he was near death, his heart pumping slower. I kept my instruments sterile, but I still wiped the scalpel with the antiseptic-soaked sponge.
“You keep a scalpel and surgical instruments handy, yet you say you’re not a healer?” asked George.
“Well, George. I hate to break this to you, but we’re in the midst of an apocalypse.”
“I’ve had to stitch myself up a time or two.”
Without glancing up at either of them, I set to my work, opening the knife wound wider with the scalpel, cutting deeper through the bone.
“Sponge, Dommiel.” He blotted the wound while I held it open with surgical tongs, delving deeper to see the damage. “I prefer working with metal,” I grumbled as I went back in.
“Why’s that?” asked George.
“Metal doesn’t bleed.”
Once I could finally see the damage done to his heart, I nodded and marched to the opposite wall where I kept my various lengths of wire.
“Not as bad as I thought.”
“Really?” George sounded more than relieved.
“Well, let me amend my statement.” I rummaged through the bins on the wall with blood-stained hands until I found what I needed. The finest alloy I’d ever come across—a blend of titanium, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, and carbon fiber. “If this doesn’t work, he will certainly die. But his attacker’s knife cut cleanly through his left pulmonary artery and left pulmonary veins, not through the aorta.”
“But you can fix him, can’t you?” Dommiel’s confidence in my ability gave me pause.
I was well-known for my talents in the art of weapon-making. But he believed in my ability to heal, not just kill. Clearing my throat, I used my wire cutters to snip off a thick ribbon of the dark gray alloy. I’d never used my magic in the presence of anyone but Dommiel.
“I can,” I assured them both. “I’d prefer it if you left.”
“I’d rather stay.” George stepped forward with those imploring eyes, damn him. “If he wakes up or dies on this table, I want him to know I’m here.”
I wasn’t shy about my abilities. I’d just rather others not know the extent to which I could use them. It put my own life in danger, and Rook had already been sniffing around me again.
“Please,” George begged in a forlorn voice, one that tugged on that part of me that was more angel than demon.
“Stand out of the way.” I snapped a look at Dommiel. “Both of you.”
With a switch on the wall, I locked and bolted my outer door so we wouldn’t be interrupted by drop-in customers. Even so, I closed the door to my warehouse of goods, shutting us in the room, then I flipped off the camera monitor and the lights. Swiftly pulling my sage and camphor candles from the cupboard, I placed and lit them in the corners of the room, whispering the words to summon my magic.
“Respirare…audite.” I then summoned my song. “Et huc venerunt…mihi carmen.”
To their credit, the demon and demon hunter in my midst remained silent. Cupping my hands around the sheet of metal—cleaned with antiseptic—I held them before me over the open chest of the dying hunter.
The song found me fast and hard, as if it knew this was more vital than metalwork, humming from my core in a ripple of supernatural sound. I didn’t always sing in creation. I didn’t need to. Not for small tasks. But the song always knew more than me, recognized the need and the importance beyond my own understanding. I was an instrument, after all. A conduit for the seraph song. And though I’d stopped singing to save souls long ago, the song had not left me…when I deigned to set it free. It seemed more than eager now to help me save this hunter’s life.
When the voice rose up into my throat and I let loose the ancient words—the song of inspiration and making—a violent wind ghosted through the room, guttering the candles. Trembling with the power vibrating through my limbs, I held steady and let the melody pour into my cupped hands. An electric-green glow shimmered there, flickering up with magical flame, melting the metal and melding with my essence of song.
My voice rose with an ethereal melody, rattling the loose metal in the bins on the wall behind me. The green-glowing alloy snaked out of my hand and poured into the open wound of the hunter, seeping down into the cavity. I leaned over him and lowered my voice, crooning old words that had no direct translation in any human language. The closest I could come to them were…grow anew, love the flesh, mend the broken, make it whole.
My attention drifted back to the unconscious man’s face. His beautiful face. For there was no denying this hunter was gifted with profound masculine beauty. Taking the wet rag Dommiel had dropped, I wiped the dried blood smeared on his brow. Continuing to wipe his face clean, I ventured lower, my melody slowing. Wiping the broad planes of his chest and torso, the ridges of his abdomen, I noted the flesh of his gaping wound stitching itself together, the green glow dimming as it was swallowed by the closing skin.
Skimming the rag down to his legs, I continued my exploration, wiping every smudge of red, making sure none of the blood was a sign of another injury. The stains were all from his one wound or from ones he’d inflicted on another. I finished at his feet, the song leaving me, and I folded the rag onto the table. Placing a hand over his now-sutured wound—a thick red scar slashing over his heart—I hummed softly, feeling his heart beat strong against my palm. The ripples of seraph magic leeched away, fading to wherever it came from.
“Gratias tibi.” I thanked the power for its gift, feeling utterly drained as I smiled down at the demon hunter.
“Bone,” came Dommiel’s gruff voice from behind me.
Turning, I hadn’t expected to find the expressions they wore—of awe and wonder. And of deep gratitude.
Dommiel shook his head. “I never”—he stared down at Xander—“you never sang like that for me.”
I scowled. “The song does what it wants. I’m not in control.”
The demon smiled. “Your song must like him, then.”
That sparked even more ire. I didn’t know this hunter or care for him any more than I would a stranger on the street. It wasn’t my fault the song was enamored with his plight. I was about to rattle off a few choice words for Dommiel’s insinuation that I was playing favorites when George stepped forward.
Swallowing hard, tears standing in his eyes, he said, “I can’t thank you enough.”
“It was the—”
He raised a hand to stop my protests. “No matter. If you weren’t willing, he’d be dead now.”
Realizing I still had my hand on his bare chest, I stepped back. “What about Uriel? Your archangel? He couldn’t have healed him?”
George cut a swift negative. “He’s still healing from his own ordeal and from—” He thumbed at Dommiel.
“Yeah, yeah. From breaking me out of Simian’s torture dungeon. She knows.”
I glanced back at the hunter, still unconscious but breathing easier. “I’d better keep him for a day or two. At least until he wakes up. I don’t know if he’ll need a second…treatment.”
I wasn’t sure what to call what I’d done. That seemed close enough.
“Yeah.” Dommiel grinned and quirked his brow. “Seraph treatment.”
“Dammit, Dommiel. Only you could make that sound dirty.”
He winked. “Speaking of dirty…I’d best be getting back to Anya.” He headed for the door. “I left her with that Twelver, Cooper. Don’t like the way he looks at her.”
George scoffed. “The way all men look at a beautiful angel with blue wings?”
“Yeah. Don’t like it.”
The Twelvers were the human resistance fighters who’d banded together in this scary new world, determined to not only survive but to fight back against the demon hordes and thrive. I sold to them as well, willing to help out anyone who could help themselves. Hell, they were the underdogs. They needed all the help they could get.
George shook his head, turning to me. “I’ll be back to check on him tomorrow. Thank you, again.”
He followed Dommiel out, leaving me alone with the demon hunter.
While my wards kept anyone from sifting through my outer walls and doors into my home, I hadn’t put up wards to keep from sifting within my own inner workroom and living space. Call me lazy, but I liked to get to the bathroom in a blink if needed. I also liked to arm myself quickly if someone broke in to rob my warehouse.
Gently, I leaned over the hunter, scooping one arm under his neck and gripping his shoulder. The other arm I wrapped around his waist, then sifted with him in my arms, vanishing and reappearing in my bed. His legs were entwined with mine, my arm trapped under the weight of his upper body.
I rolled in a panic to get him off me and wound up straddling him. That spiked my adrenaline more, his warm bare torso heating through my jean-clad thighs. Scrambling off of him and the bed, I blew out a deep breath. He remained unconscious and unfazed by this badass demoness’s panicked reaction to being trapped in bed with a man.
Laughing, I shook my head, hands on hips. It’s not like I hadn’t been in bed with men before. Something about this hunter’s proximity sent my senses into a spiral. I’ll just have to stay as far away from him as possible.
Get him well. Then get him out of my house.
Yes, that’s what I needed to do.
Marching back into my workroom and to the blade that still needed finishing, I shut the door behind me.
“And definitely out of my bed.”
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of HARDEST FALL by Juliette Cross, we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 3/1/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Juliette Cross
JULIETTE CROSS calls lush, moss-laden Louisiana home where the landscape curls into her imagination, creating mystical settings for her stories. She has a B.A. in creative writing from Louisiana State University, a M.Ed. in gifted education, and was privileged to study under the award-winning author Ernest J. Gaines in grad school. Her love of mythology, legends, and art serve as constant inspiration for her works. From the moment she read JANE EYRE as a teenager, she fell in love with the Gothic romance–brooding characters, mysterious settings, persevering heroines, and dark, sexy heroes. Even then, she not only longed to read more novels set in Gothic worlds, she wanted to create her own.